mánudagur, mars 28, 2005

bobby fischer

...just came into the cafe where I was studying Icelandic, surrounded by a media entourage. He couldn't get a table so he left.

For those who haven't been following the "saga", Bobby Fischer was granted Icelandic citizenship last week by special act of the Alþing (Parliament). His shiny new Icelandic passport was effectively a Get Out of Jail Free card for the Japanese government, which had been holding him in detention while they decided what to do with him. His American passport had expired and was unrenewable as the U.S. was (and still is) requesting his return on charges that he illegally visited Yugoslavia in 1992, when travel to that country was banned for U.S. citizens. Fischer arrived in Iceland last Thursday.

Fischer helped put Iceland on the map in 1972 when he defeated Boris Spassky here in a Cold War showdown. The Russian Spassky was the favorite, Fischer the young upstart. The match was the Rocky IV of the chess world. And Iceland has always had a fondness for chess.

Fischer's sudden Icelandic citizenship bothers me for a number of reasons. I am also an American citizen, but unlike Fisher, I came to Iceland to work here and my work directly benefits the Icelandic economy, both through the new products I am creating for my clients here, and in the 39% income tax I am paying to Iceland while I live here. Despite this gainful employment, I and my company must reapply for a new work and residence permit every year for 4 years. At that point I can apply for permanent residence status, for which I must pass a test to show that I am competent in the Icelandic language. And even then I am not a citizen.

By virtue of his notoriety, Fischer, who had previously spent only a couple of weeks in Iceland, does not have to jump through any of these hoops.

Fischer is also a controversial figure, known in recent years for his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Once again, he is shining the spotlight on Iceland, but this time many of the international articles also contain recent quotes of his, trashing the Jewish people (he was born to a Jewish mother) and raining abuse down on the United States and Japan. This is surely not the kind of publicity this peaceful and forward-looking nation needs.

Contrary to international press reports, all the Icelanders I've spoken to believe Mr. Fischer reflects badly on their country and think it very strange that their Parliament made an exception for this man to come here. "He has friends in high places," says one friend. Guess I'd better brush up on my prejudice and my castling.

miðvikudagur, mars 23, 2005

missed connection in the globe

The Boston Globe has picked up the story of Elisa and me, and is running it today in the Living/Arts section! How come the Red Sox win the Series, and I get a feature length piece in the Globe, after I leave Boston?

fimmtudagur, mars 17, 2005


The last song on Sigur Rós' seminal album Ágætis byrjun is named Avalon. And when the band played in Boston a few times, they played at the Avalon Ballroom. All this Avalon-talk got me wondering, what is Avalon, exactly?

Dictionary.com says about Avalon:

"In Arthurian legend, an island paradise in the western seas to which King Arthur went at his death."

Hmmm, island paradise? Seas west of England? Could it be... Iceland?

Although today it's not much of a paradise. After weeks of warm temps and then some cool sunshine, the snow and 50 mph winds are back today. But I'll still keep an eye peeled for that King Arthur guy.

mánudagur, mars 14, 2005

the 52 states

I was showing a PowerPoint presentation I am doing on the U.S. to my coworkers. It's all in Icelandic, for my Icelandic class, and mentions the "50 ríki" (50 states) on the opening slide.

Both coworkers said, "Aren't there 52 states?"

"No," I said.

"What about Alaska and Hawaii?" they asked.

"Nope, those are number 49 and 50," I said.

"But if you count the number of stars in the flag, you get 52," they said.

So we counted. I had never actually done that. Sure enough, it's 50.

Then I decided to undertake a little informal survey of my coworkers. To a person, every coworker I asked responded that the U.S. has 52 states. We are guessing that somewhere in the past, the national Icelandic geography curriculum erroneously had the number 52. Everyone also seems to have learned the bit about the flag, but of course it's a rare and strange child who actually bothers to count the stars.

"Ah, but what about Afghanistan and Iraq?" coworker Sindri said, "There's your 52!"

föstudagur, mars 11, 2005

black coffee

Icelanders drink a lot of coffee. The coffee machine here at work is constantly being filled with new beans, and the sound of the grinding of beans in the kitchen fills the workdays.

And they inevitably drink black coffee. Just now I got a (quite good!) latte from the machine and my coworker Þórir took one look in the cup and said, "Is that milk? Still breastfeeding?"

fimmtudagur, mars 10, 2005

more about swimming pools

This guy swam in over 50 Icelandic swimming pools, and lived to write about it last weekend in the Washington Post. It's an entertaining piece without a lot of the patronizing usually found in articles about Iceland.

miðvikudagur, mars 09, 2005

dollars are so '90s

Now one U.S. dollar costs less than 60 Icelandic kronur, its lowest level since 1992. When I arrived here last August, the dollar was around 73. So in just 7 months, it has lost around 18% of its value. (When I first came here in 2002, the dollar was at around 100.)

This is good news for me: when I go home to the States everything seems ridiculously cheap. But it's bad news for my American visitors who will now find themselves paying $6.70 for a gallon of gas or $13.25 for a burger, fries, and Coke. And bad for tourism in Iceland as well, and tourism is one of the biggest industries here. We'll have fewer Americans this summer for sure.

But as long as both the fiscal hawks in the U.S. Government and the average American continue to overspend, the dollar will continue its slide and with it American buying power in the outside world. Next, a $20 burger? Order up!

fimmtudagur, mars 03, 2005

missed connection

Amanda Kwan, an NYU journalism student, just published this article on how Elisa and I met. I'm really happy with the way it turned out! And not just the article...